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A subject in need of a writer

‘Have you your next book in mind?’ ‘Not yet, I can’t fix on a subject,’ my friend replied. ‘What about Ouida?’ I said. Actually this exchange has taken place a couple of times, and on each occasion my suggestion was received without enthusiasm. Perhaps it was thought patronising: Victorian romantic novelist, suitable subject for a

A mask that eats the face

A man whose personal life contains as many potentially unflattering episodes as V. S. Naipaul might easily have been resistant to the idea of biographical scrutiny. In fact, however, Naipaul has shown himself remarkably hospitable to the idea. In 1994 he went so far as to say: ‘A full account of a writer’s life might

Flies on the wall

Philip Ziegler reviews a collection of history essays To invite 20 eminent historians to describe the world-changing event in history which they most wish they had witnessed is an ingenious publishing idea likely to produce an entertaining and even modestly instructive book. Happy evenings could be spent around the dinner table debating the choices and suggesting

Changing all utterly

This is a book so remarkable that after finishing it you will find yourself casting the film that will surely get made. Kevin Myers, a young freelance Irish journalist — James Nesbitt, he of the Yellow Pages and Pontius Pilate; Pastor Oliver Cromwell Whiteside, a Protestant fundamentalist preacher who speaks throughout in the accents of

Boys will be boys

Reading this novel I couldn’t help but think of the opening lines of Miroslav Holub’s poem, ‘A Boy’s Head’ — ‘In it there is a space ship/ and a project/ for doing away with piano lessons.’ Not that Robbie Coyle, the hero of Crumey’s novel and the son of a socialist/communist father growing up in

Sounds of the Seventies

One of the difficult tasks when writing fiction about the recent past is to let the reader know the approximate year in which the action is taking place without giving the impression of scene-setting. A mediocre novelist will cram the early dialogue with clunky references to Ted Heath’s chances at the next election or the